How can I prepare?
The absolutely top tip to remember is very few people can breastfeed straight away! Maybe for your second baby, but usually not for your first. Remember that breastfeeding is a learned skill and you and your baby both need to practise. Their instinct will be much stronger than yours, so it’s important you learn as much as you can before you start – don’t wait and expect it all to work magically.
You can do things like watch friends who are good at breastfeeding, or go to NHS or NCT classes. You’ll see lots of mums breastfeeding their babies – doing it well – but also mums who are making mistakes and then learning how to fix them. It’s great if you can spend as much time as possible doing this while you’re still pregnant, so you’ll have a really clear idea in your mind by the time your little baby is born.
When you are in hospital, get as much help as you can from the midwives on the ward. Ask them to watch you breastfeed until it feels right. Sometimes a tiny adjustment in how you bring your baby to the breast can make all the difference.
Check if your local Children’s Centre has breastfeeding drop-in classes – and you can go before you have your baby to get some tips as well. Once your baby is born, you’ll find the local Children’s Centre will be really useful in many ways, so it’s a good idea to find it early on!
Top tips for the first feed
What’s skin-to-skin contact?
Have lots of skin-to skin contact with your baby when she is first born. Lie her across your chest and have a lovely cuddle. This is sometimes called ‘kangaroo care’ and it helps you bond with your baby, as well as helping her regulate her temperature and breathing.
What is colostrum?
The first milk you make is called colostrum. It’s yellowy in colour, super-nutritious and exactly what your baby needs in the early hours and days of life. Because it’s so full of nutrients, your baby doesn’t need very much at all – so don’t worry if she doesn’t seem to have a lot of milk for the first few feeds.
She seems to want to feed all the time – is that normal?
Yes it’s completely normal. At first, your baby will take hardly anything in a feed, and her tiny tummy will be full up. But the tummy empties very quickly too, so your baby will want another feed quickly. This is fine and you should just go with the flow. Your milk production will be encouraged by your baby feeding a lot – it gives signals to your body to make milk. Usually it’s around every hour, but it might be more often and you should try to let your baby feed whenever she wants. That’s through the night as well as through the day to start with, so it can be exhausting. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps – lots of little catnaps.
When will my ‘proper’ milk ‘come in’?
A few days after birth, your breast milk, rather than the colostrum, will ‘come in’. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you’ll make, so encourage it all along by feeding your baby as often as you can through those first days. You’ll know when it’s happened – your breasts will feel full.
How do I know my baby wants to feed?
As you get to know your baby, you’ll recognise the signs – they’re called ‘feeding cues’. Sometimes they bob their little heads around (known as ‘rooting’), sometimes they suck whatever’s nearby – perhaps your fingers! Sometimes they open their mouths and gape like a baby bird in a nest. Your baby will have her own signs that you’ll start to recognise. If you’re not sure, you can test it really easily by offering them your breast and seeing if they feed!
Does breastfeeding hurt?
When your baby attaches to your breast to feed, her sucking creates what’s called a ‘let down reflex’ and your milk in your breasts comes down to your nipples. In some people it tingles, in others there’s no big sensation, and in some people it hurts for a few seconds. If it hurts for longer than a few seconds and the pain is focused around your nipple and continues while your baby is feeding, then that means your baby probably isn’t latched on properly.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt when your baby starts feeding. So if this is happening, you need to look at the way your baby is attaching. If you need to get your baby off your breast so you can re-attach her, don’t just pull her off – you’ll end up with really sore nipples. You need to gently insert your little finger between your breast and your baby’s mouth, and this breaks the suction first and gently ‘de-latches’ her! Then you can start again. You can also go to your local Children’s Centre for advice from the breastfeeding teachers there.